Friday, November 19, 2004

Fighting on two fronts

A poll in Holland earlier this week found that the Dutch population considered Pim Fortuyn, the assassinated right-wing politician, to be the greatest Dutchman ever. Apart from the fact that this shows up the tremendous limits of any sort of poll of this kind (a similar poll in South Africa highlighted only the lingering racism and deep divisions of that society), it also highlights the problems that have been caused by the assassination of film-maker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fundamentalist. Or, as my fellow blogger Frans Groenendijk puts it, by a walking time bomb.

In not entirely unrelated news, Germany is also experiencing strong difficulties with Islam. A report in the Times earlier this week details how Islamic preachers may be ordered to preach in German, rather than Arabic, so it is easy to monitor what they are saying. This comes after a controversy in which an imam was preaching a directly anti-German message. "The Germans, he said, would only support Turkish entry to the European Union if the Turks ripped down the minarets and bulldozed the mosques."

Both of these instances are demonstrative of the extremes of free speech, on both sides. I agree wholeheartedly with people like Stephen Pollard when they say that the comments of the Index on Censors, namely that van Gogh "abused his right to free speech" with his production of the short film "Submission", are completely out of order and that he has the right to say it. I watched the film, and although explicitly provocative (an Islamic woman wearing a semi-transparent veil, for example, with several scenes in which she is clearly aware of her being a sexual being; or Quranic verses being written on a female body) the points that he raises are particularly valid. Islam, in many cases, does allow the treatment of women in a manner completely out of kilter with Western values. And if these people cannot tolerate free speech being allowed to criticise their beliefs, then they shouldn't be taking up residence in such countries. We should also be careful about granting citizenship to these groups.

However, the German case provides a much more difficult situation for us. Because if we accept the right of Mr van Gogh to make his speeches, then we also have to accept the right of the imam to speak his mind. The difficulty arises in that whereas the message of Submission is calling for a reform of the attitudes of the Islamic male, the message of some imams is far more radical, and argues for the destruction of western civilisation. People in the West may criticise the Islamic faith heavily, but they would never call for its absolute destruction. However, those who portray the West as the Great Satan will seize on any attempt to restrict fundamentalist Islam as proof of the corruption of the West; let alone attempts to restrict things which to them may seem far more moderate.

The quote I used above from the Times is quite clearly inciting the worshippers at the mosque to believe that the official policy of Germany in particular, and Europe in general, is directly anti-Islamic. But our values of free speech demand that we let them say this. What we have to be more militant about is telling people that statements like these are false, derogatory and dangerous, and set about showing them they are wrong. Being cowed by political correctness is perhaps the worst thing that we can do, for it allows the promulgation of lies.

Religious questions are always fraught with danger, for there tends to be a section of irrationality to belief that is difficult to overcome in rational argument. At a certain level, issues have to be put down to faith and disagreements accepted - unfortunately this rarely happens on issues of such an emotive nature. However, if we are not clear in the way we promote our own values, then we run the risk of losing large amounts of disaffected youth to fundamentalist movements.

There is a direct link between the actions of Islamic fundamentalists and a growth in Islamophobia which allows the growth, in turn, of anti-immigration parties like the Vlaams Blok about which I blogged last week. But we have to fight a war on two fronts, which is one fraught with the danger of the religious issue that I referred to above. Those "walking time-bombs" who do nothing but spout anti-Western hate have to be stopped. They are a threat to our civilisation, both in a physical and a metaphorical sense; they are hell-bent on our destruction, but this can come about too by forcing a retreat from our values. In terms of physical militancy, this requires an approach which involves killing them before they can kill us. I make no bones about this statement - if we believe Western values are right, we have to be prepared to fight to stop them. And yet, on the other hand, we have to prevent people from believing their rhetoric. This creates a dilemma in itself - for attacking Muslims will always be presented in some circles as being fundamentally anti-Islamic. Yet if we handle matters correctly, I am sure this problem can be limited. How the wars should be fought, I am as yet unsure.